As a history teacher, I am a great fan of the Crash Course history series. Over the years, Crash Course has expanded beyond World and US History, covering physics, philosophy, mythology, and more. This Fall, they launched a new series: Crash Course Study Skills. This is great series to help students learn various techniques to help them be successful in school. Through their series of amusing and informative videos, students learn how to effectively take notes, retain information, active reading, and more. Try it out!
Circling around the interwebs recently has been an article on the Atlantic by Jean Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” If you have not yet read the piece, then I encourage you to do so. It is a powerful and interesting look at the impact of social media on the post-millennial generation (that the author terms iGen). If you know me, or have been a reader of my blog, then you know that I do not advocate scare tactics and believe that these tools are both transformative in school and outside of them. I like this piece because it is a well thought out look at the shifting landscape of modern adolescents.
Twenge is not a luddite or an author nostaligic for the days of her youth. The piece is careful to highlight (repeatedly) that correlation is not necessarily causation and that generational differences are just that – differences. She is also careful not demonize smart phones or social media, rather the author focuses on the correlation between the prevalence of Smartphones and the rise of depression amongst teens. Twenge highlights several disturbing and significant trends that we see in our communities that correlate with the smartphone and social media, especially among teens that spend less time socializing peer to peer and more time socializing online.
The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression. Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.
What struck me throughout this article is that iGen is a group of adolescents that are less inclined to engage, unsupervised, with their peers than previous generations. They are less likely to be independent through part-time jobs, unsupervised activities, and drivers licenses. This is not a trait that we can blame on “this generation,” but is more often seen as a result of parenting trends. danah boyd (sic) highlights throughout her book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, that adolescents today are more governed and controlled by their parents and society than any generation prior. This is likely connected to the fact that while it has never been safer to be a child in the world, our perceptions of danger have never been higher. As such, children are sheltered to an unprecedented degree. While many of us Gen X’ers can remember being dropped off at the mall to “hang out” with friends for a few hours or “going out” with friends on a Saturday night, today’s tweens and teens are not afforded such freedoms. It is so uncommon, in fact, that a “new age” parenting technique deemed “Free Range Parenting” has arisen. The quotes are not accidental, the child rearing of our youths is now deemed “radical.”
Twenge does an excellent job highlighting that the struggles of today’s adolescents are more complex than simple “screen time.” The issue that most struck me was the role that social media plays in amplifying traditional adolescent anxieties, especially of “being left out.” All of us remember being the one “not invited” to a party or event. It was hurtful on Monday morning to find out that your friends were all having fun and you were at home. With today’s social media, however, “left out” teens are bombarded with images and videos of the events as they are happening. This is in keeping with technology as an “amplifier.”
There were a few elements in Twenge’s article that I felt merited further exploration or may be less conclusive than the author presents. Many of the trends she highlighted were already on the rise (or decline) by the time that smartphones came on the scene; for example teenagers dating or getting drivers licenses were decreasing for years. Additionally, measuring things such as mental illness, depression, and suicidal ideation have become more prevalent in the modern era with the professionalization of mental health services and the continual de-stigmatization of certain mental illnesses (such as depression). As such, these may have simply been grossly under-reported in the past. Additionally, while suicide remains stigmatic mode of death, more people are talking about and acknowledging when individuals (especially teenagers) take their own lives. Less often are suicides labeled “accidents.”
An article posted on JSTOR, “Yes, Smartphones Are Destroying a Generation But Not of Kids,” takes greater issue with Twenge’s research and data. It also highlights the fact that it is parents’ social media use, rather than kids’s, that is more alarming.
…when parents are distracted—as today’s parents are, perpetually, by our online lives—it’s the encouragement that suffers, more than the control. The result? Kids who stay inside their semi-gilded cages, because they don’t get the support they need to spread their wings.
This is not to say that I am dismissing Twenge’s conclusions. The piece is quite thoughtful and presents some compelling evidence that adults (parents and educators) should be more thoughtful about the time their children spend online and more open to more “analog” and “independent” activities for children.
Read the article and let me know your thoughts in the comments.
I recently had the privilege of participating in Vicki Davis’s show, 10 minute teacher. We talked about teaching students new Media Literacy skills in the era of “Fake News.”
Devices have become omnipresent in our classrooms. Often, these tools are used as expensive, electronic content delivery systems. However, the real power in technology in schools is that it empowers students to become content creators. Smartphones and tablets, even more so, have allowed them to become mobile and agile ones. Most educators know that individuals learn far more about a topic when they must explain it to someone else. Additionally, by employing multiple learning modalities through the creative process (tactile, kinesthetic, visible, etc), students process material more thoroughly. As you think about your lesson plans in the future, consider empowering students to create rather than just consume. Here are a few ways to do just that.
Create a Video
I am a fan of giving students guiding questions and parameters, then having them make an educational video. In my documentaries project, students must answer address a specific topic (e.g. “Where did George Washington get his reputation for honesty?” or “Was Benedict Arnold solely a villain of the Revolutionary War?”). We talk about creating
content in an engaging way, incorporating images and videos effectively (and ethically), pacing content, and selecting what to include or leave out. Videos are not exclusive to the humanities. I have seen math teachers effectively use them by having students demonstrate how to solve complex problems and science teachers as a recording and reflection for labs. I also encourage students to post their videos publicly (when age appropriate) or to the class via a closed portal (for younger students). By posting their videos publicly and sharing with the class, they are presenting to an authentic audience. Making a video is easy and can by done with a smartphone, tablet, and/or computer. Free software options include iMovie (MacOS & iOS), Movie Maker (Windows), and FilmoraGo (iOS & Android).
Create a Podcast
Podcasts are become ever more popular. There are podcasts to cover news, popular entertainment, hobbies, sports, cultural phenomena, and more. Task your class with
creating a podcast on a topic relevant to your course. If you are a Social Studies teacher, perhaps a weekly podcast on current events. If you teach science, a weekly science report relevant to the topic. Math? Try incorporating an update on a complex topic students are tackling that week. Podcasting can help students work on their public speaking skills as well as how to effectively present to an audience. Again, by sharing the podcast with the public at large or just the class and/or school, students learn what it is to engage with a broader audience. Podcasting can be done easily with a smartphone, tablet, and/or computer paired with a simple microphone to drown out ambient sound (the microphone on headphones can work in a pinch or you can invest in something a little more substantive). My favorite free apps for podcasting include: Garageband (MacOS & iOS) and Audacity (MacOS & Windows).
My students complete a year long research project that they post on a comprehensive website. Through creating an online portal, they learn how to write effectively for a broad audience, how to cite material so that it is accessible online, how to create and incorporate various types of media, and how to effectively organize and lay-out content. What I especially like about website creation is that it allows students to combine skills that they have learned throughout the year (e.g. video and podcasting). We have all seen “good” and “bad” websites. When it’s published online, students want theirs to look good. As such, it also serves as a basic primer in basic graphic design. There are numerous free website tools out there. If your school is a G-Suite for Education school, then I highly recommend using the new Google Sites. Not only is it easy to use, but it readily allows for collaboration. You can also check out weebly or wix.
If you’re in a school where students have access to devices, I strongly encourage having them turn those devices into content creators. You will find that it empowers them as learners and makes their learning more applicable and deep.
Back to School shopping has started. Here in Florida, we kick off “tax free weekend,” which allows parents and students to purchase back to school items and pay no sales tax. Items included on that list: clothing, school supplies, computers, tablets, and smart phones! For many parents of tweens, the start of the school year also marks the start of the “cell phone conversation.” Do I get my child a smart phone? If so, what kind of smart phone? What limits do I put on them? Is it yet age appropriate for my child to have a phone?
So, how do you start the cell phone conversation with your child? Or, if you are a teacher or school administrator, how do you advise parents? There are a few ways to get the conversation going and things for you to consider.
Is a smart phone Age-Appropriate?
I feel comfortable telling parents that a child should not have their own device if they are younger than double digits. While I have seen 8 and 9 years olds playing on devices, those devices should ultimately belong to an adult. After the age of 10, however, it becomes a little more challenging. It would be easiest if I could tell parents that X age is the right age for their child to get a smartphone. However, the reality is that every child is different.
Your child is unique in their maturity and tolerance for responsibility. A smartphone is a big responsibility. A few comparable questions: Do I feel comfortable leaving my child home alone for a few hours? Does my child take care of their toys (e.g. clothing, other electronics, etc)? Would I allow my child to supervise other children? These questions tell you a few things: Can my child safely navigate without adult supervision? Can they care for an expensive piece of electronics? Can my child effectively and safely manage and engage with others without adult supervision?
Have a Conversation About the Responsibility of a Smartphone
I know, I know… this sounds so cheesy. But the reality is that, like driving a car, getting a smartphone is a big responsibility. They are entering a new world of freedom and flexibility. One in which they can, likely will (and developmentally should) make some mistakes and missteps. If you want to know more about what kids really “get up to” online, check out danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (this link gives you access to a free PDF version of the book). danah’s (yes, she spells it that way) book gives you a realistic look at how children engage with one another online. Here are some questions to discuss with your child:
- What will you do if you see something that makes you uncomfortable online?
- What will you do if you think that a friend or a classmate is being mean to you or someone else?
- How will you react if someone makes you angry online?
- What will you do if you think you have made a mistake in how you have acted online?
- What will you do if your phone breaks or gets dropped in water?
This should be realistic conversations. Try not to use scare tactic examples. Pull things from real life:
“One time, Aunt Edna and I got into an argument because she responded to my selfie by saying ‘You look soooo fat!’ It turned out that she was being sarcastic and meant it as a compliment; I had recently lost weight. I thought that she was being mean. We didn’t speak for two weeks because neither of tried to clear up the communication. What could we have done better?”
Set Boundaries for Your Child & Yourself
Boundaries are important in all facets of life, including electronics. Sit down and have a conversation with your child about rules and boundaries for their new device – both for you and for them. Make a physical list that you post in your home. Think of this as an evolving process. Some of these may change as the child gets older or if you or your child feel it needs to shift. Additionally, consider consequences for violating boundaries (loss of a privilege?) Parents, keep in mind that modeling is especially important! A few items for you to consider:
- Will there be a “no smartphone” time? For example family meals? Homework/reading time? Family events? Bedtime?
- Will parents be monitoring smartphone use?
- When (during the day) is it acceptable to text? For example, what about during the school day? Parents, keep in mind that if you text a child during class-time, you may be enabling behavior you don’t want!
- What is acceptable to share online? When should you get permission to post or share something?
- Where will the phone be kept at night? It is often recommended to remove smartphones from children’s bedrooms at night to avoid temptation. Charge them in a parent’s room or a neutral place.
Keep Yourself Informed
Have regular conversations with your child about what they do online. Reinforce the idea that you are a trusted adult and they can come to you when they run into problems. To me, that is the most vital part of tween cell phone ownership – knowing that their parents can and will help them if they find themselves in uncomfortable situations or have made a poor decision. Some great resources for parents:
- Media! Tech! Parenting! by Marti Weston
- American Academic of Pediatrics Media & Children Communication
- Common Sense Media – Parent Concerns
If you have some thoughts or contributions, please share them in the notes below!
The start of school is just around the corner! Many educators are brushing off old lesson plans for revision or restructuring their curriculum. As you prepare for the start of school, here are five ed tech tools to check out to help get your lesson planning game on point.
Google Classroom has become the go-to tool for educators to assign and collect
assignments, disseminate information, and even to keep parents informed. With some new, robust updates (better ways to navigate individual student work, transfer classes, team teach, and third party integration to name a few), it’s time to up your Classroom game. By using Google Classroom, you can easily keep student work in one place; no more emails entitled “homework” from personal emails you don’t recognize (e.g. “firstname.lastname@example.org”). Remember that Classroom is free and available to all (even if your school is not a G-Suite for Education institution). It really is worth a look!
Email is dead, it’s all about texting. In spite of this, our primary means of communication with students and parents remains email. Most teachers move around this by simply sharing their personal cell number and collecting them from students. Of course, this can be a real hindrance on privacy and can lead to concerns about appropriate boundaries. This is where Remind comes in. If your school is anything like mine, it’s fast moving and constantly changing. Remind is a great way to text students and parents important information (e.g. “due to snow day, test moved to Friday” or “Field-trip departure moved to side gate”). This does not require teachers, students, or parents to share their personal cell phone numbers. It also keeps a record of all texts that a teacher sends out. Privacy and boundaries protected!
Socrative has long been a favorite of educators. It’s a way to conduct reviews, run bell ringer or exit ticket activities, and otherwise gamify your classroom. Socrative has gone through several iterations. In addition to their free service, they now offer a “Pro” version ($59.99/year) that allows you to take your Socrative game to the next level. My students always enjoy days where we engage in Socrative activities; it allows them to show off what they know and tackle what they need to learn.
Now, you may be surprised to learn that I advocate a flashcard system. However, rote memorization still has a place in education. Whether you’re teaching geography, vocabulary, spelling, physics terms, or more, there will always be a place for flashcards. Quizlet has really become more robust than ever before. There are a number of ways to use Quizlet in your classroom. You can create sets yourself and share with your class in advance. Students can collaborate on sets. Quizlet now even lets you use your sets to engage in creative games (not just flashcards or matching).
Twitter remains the go-to social network for teachers. If you are a Twitter user, it’s time to rejoin your chats and check out what your PLN is up to. If Twitter has been on your “To-Do” list, now is a great time to start! Check out my articles: “Effective Ways for Educators to Use Twitter” and “5 Ways for Teachers to Get Started on Twitter.” If you need to expand your “follow” list, here are some Great Educators & Institutions to Follow.
These are just 5 (Free) resources. There are many more. Please share your favorite in the comment section below!
It’s August… school will be starting soon for many of us. In fact, I have less than three weeks before I’m sitting in a classroom with children again. What does this mean for most educators? It’s time to start thinking about school once again. If you haven’t noticed, I made a concerted effort in the month of July to unplug. This meant little writing and little (electronic) reading. However, it’s time to get back at it! Here are 5 blogs that I follow that help me get back in the school year mindset. Add these to your favorite RSS reader (if you need one, check out Feedly).
Cult of Pedagogy covers everything from the social implications of education to specific practices in your classroom. This is a great place to stay on top of trends, practice, and the emotional roller coaster that is education.
I had the privilege of meeting Richard Wells at a conference a few years ago. He is truly an innovative and forward thinking educator. If you want to see what innovative pedagogy looks like in practice, then his blog is it. He is a lead teacher in New Zealand, a country that has revamped its educational practices with dramatic results. No tests? check! No set curriculum? That’s them! No grade levels? Yep, right there! It’s truly an inspiration.
While Marti Weston may have retired from schools, she has not retired from education. Once a week or so, I find a thoughtful and provocative post on a relevant topic. I had the privilege of working with Marti via ISTE. She is an inspirational educator.
This public media blog covers educational topics across a myriad of topics: low-income students, special education, department of education, etc. It’s a great place to see what’s happening in education throughout the country.
Audrey Waters certainly knows what’s happening in education. Sometimes inspiring, other times provocative, I come away from this blog with a lot to process. This is a great place to reflect on current policies and practice.
These are only 5 blogs… there are hundreds, no thousands, that merit your attention. If you have one you think I should highlight, please share it in the comments. Better yet, start your own!